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Translating financial documents: 8 questions you should ask your translation services partner

By Neil Gauld, 

In 1984, a Japanese mistranslation instigated the largest bailout in banking history at the time. And it was all down to nuance in translation, when a reported “rumour” of a Japanese buyout of Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company in the U.S., became an “announcement” in Japanese. Suddenly the already troubled Continental was on its knees. The U.S. Federal Reserve had to move quickly to sustain confidence in the national banking system – it pledged its limitless credit behind Continental.

As one of the most regulated, sensitive and powerful industries in the world, the scope for turmoil and scandal in the financial sector is huge. It has its own language in every country, and even the slightest error can lead to a major problem. But you don’t have to work in global banking for a mistranslation – or even a poor translation – of your financial documents to cause a problem. So, whether you work in the financial services sector or you deal with financial documentation within a large enterprise, it’s important that you choose your translation services partner wisely.

You must be confident that their business is robust enough technically and legally to support yours[, and that their financial translators are aware of your different market cultures and regulations. They must deliver consistently and on time, whether they’re translating annual reports, investor documentation, marketing documents, regulatory documentation, policy documents, data analysis, fact sheets and so on.

Our well-seasoned advice is that you ask your potential translation services partners these eight questions, then you’ll be well on your way to sorting the gold coins from the tin.

1. Are they aware of local regulation and market culture?

These vary from country to country, and culture to culture so, while you would not expect your financial translator to be a legal expert – you have legal counsel for that – you should at least expect them to be financial experts who are aware of local regulations.

2. Can they ensure consistency across regions?

Different regulations, standards and jurisdictions demand consistency, and your translation services provider must be sensitive to these. For example, International Financial Reporting Standards demand consistency in certain accounting terminology across all text included in financial statements. If your translator gets it wrong and you end up misleading your customers you could find yourself in all sorts of trouble.  

From a brand strategy point of view, global consistency across your entire range of financial documents will help maintain the professional image of your business. This could be anything from reports to contracts to statements to marketing communications etc.

3. Do their translators really grasp the nuances of financial language?

As Peter Abelard, the medieval French theologian wrote, “Be precise in the use of words and expect precision from others.”

This is a great maxim for financial translation. Financial terms are not universal, so the choice of words fully depends on the target audience and language. For example “common stock”, “called-up share capital”, “share of stock” and “share capital” all describe the same thing depending on whether your audience is in the U.S., the UK, France or Russia.

4. Do they understand international number systems?

Financial documents are often full of numbers, which frequently require reformatting for different jurisdictions. Your translator should be aware of these for your geographical markets.

5. How many financial translators do they have and how good are they?

Make sure your translation services partner retains a strong, reliable bank of subject matter experts, recruited from the financial sector. Then you can be sure your translator has a good working knowledge of your area.

In brief: do not entrust your financial translation to a non-expert.  

6. Can they meet your timing requirements?

Make sure to discuss your likely timing requirements from the start. The financial sector moves quickly, so your translation services partner should accommodate you by turning around translations at a pace that allows you to meet your deadlines in good time.

7. Is their business trustworthy?

Handing over your sensitive financial documentation to a third party creates a potential risk for your business, so you need to make sure you can trust your translation services partner. They and their translators should sign NDAs, for example, to protect you against data leakage, tampering or mistranslation.

It’s a good idea to find out about their past experience and what their existing customers say about them – check out the financial case studies on their website.

8. Are their systems, technologies and infrastructure robust?

Make sure your translation services provider has a strong framework of the latest translation technology coupled with best practice processes.  Their translation memory system, glossaries and machine learning platforms should be well managed.

It is critical that you protect your customer and company data, so be aware that translation memory software retains data. Check that your translation services provider is protected against third party intrusion – their servers should be ISO27001 certified, for example.

If you get a “yes” to each of these eight questions, you’re onto a winner – well done!

To find out more about our financial expertise at Brightlines Translation, click here. You can also read a couple of case studies on two of our long-term financial clients, Western Union and Nomura.

Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss your translation requirements – we’re here to help.

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